Resilience and Remembrance: New York Fashion Week 20 Years After 9/11
One of the unexpectedly standout events of New York Fashion Week happened without a runway, without loud music, without any peacocking—and was instead an hour of eloquent and powerful conversation. On Saturday afternoon, Samira Nasr, editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar, moderated a discussion about the events of 20 years ago, and their fashion world legacy.
The tragedy of 9/11 unfolded in the middle of that year’s New York Fashion Week. Nasr and her well-chosen panel—supermodel Karen Elson, onetime NYFW czar Fern Mallis, IMG Models & Fashion president Ivan Bart, and designer Adam Lippes who was then global creative director of Oscar de la Renta—dug deep with both memories and insight.
Elson, who has a piercing recall of detail, heard and watched events unfold in horrifying real time at her then-apartment near the Towers—the planes smashing into the buildings, the sight of people jumping which will haunt her forever, she says, and then the buildings’ collapse. She ran from her home, falling over, injuring herself, and was then conveyed to the Chelsea neighborhood on a stranger’s bike, who later contacted her—and did the same on this very Saturday, all these years later, just to see how she was.
Mallis recalled the news breaking through slowly between shows, and having to make clear to the next show setting up that a terrorist attack was underway, and that the show was (temporarily) over. Bart remembered the night before September 11, and a party by the river for Marc Jacobs—he recalled how beautiful the Twin Towers looked that evening.
Some shows eventually went ahead, like de la Renta’s, though muted, with no music, and American flags as integral to the looks as ingeniously cut seams. All the panelists remembered a city and population in massive pain and distress, a desire to make sure others were alright, and a pulling together to do as much good as possible—even if gestures like sending all the mineral water downtown seemed hopelessly inadequate.
The panelists recognized how fashion and its many fripperies paled next to everything about that day, while also insisting on fashion’s own cultural and restorative worth. Continuing to mount shows that week was an attempted statement of industry strength.
Nasr and Mallis choked back tears as they wondered about the notion of hope. This would be the only part of the conversation that lapsed into empowerment homily-land. A welcome splash of wit came on the heels of the proposal that 9/11 had made fashion less bitchy. Nasr rightly added: “For a moment,” with Mallis agreeing, adding it would soon revert to type. (And perhaps thank goodness for that.)
The panelists suggested that the experiences of COVID and 9/11 made them, and should make us, want to strive and be their best selves. Maybe, and certainly one of the most heartening things was the audience listening to this excellent conversation was silent and rapt throughout. Many looked so young that they had to have been born after 9/11. They were lucky to have chanced upon such a sharp history lesson. Tim Teeman
Studio One Eighty Nine
Studio One Eighty Nine co-founders Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah were told not to seat their fashion week audience in a circle—that negates the purpose of a front row—but they did anyway. The result was a thoughtful celebration of connectedness, and the organizers took their show date (twenty years after 9/11) seriously.
Guests walked in and seated to a soundtrack of audio recorded in NYC days after the tragedy (voices, crackling radio, fuzzy white noise) by Uproot Andy. Then Neda Zaharie and Bridget Barkan sang a love poem in both Farsi and English. The actress Sarah Jones read a poem that said the clothes were intended to go “from the runways to the rallies” and spoke of the power of self-expression as a protest. Heavy stuff, but the clothes were presented with joy by dancing models of varying ages, sizes, and gender. The clothes, made by artisans at a facility in Ghana, were freeing and made for movement. Patchwork Kente cloth and indigo were a reoccurring motif. Alaina Demopoulos
There has been much talk about how we should dress now. Cynthia Rowley has an idea for you: psychedelic sleeping bag pants. The night before the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the New York designer took over Battery Park for a joyous celebration of her colorful and whimsical print. The date was underscored by a New York City fireman, who happened to be waving an American flag in front of the Hudson right as the show began. The pieces came in Rowley’s signature acid-hued, elevated cartoon prints and were the perfect mesh of lounge and going out. Alaina Demopoulos
Alice + Olivia
Here, proof that it is an extremely good idea to serve prosecco cocktails at fashion shows. CEO and creative director Stacey Bendet’s brand is known for its whimsical style and extravagantly playful events. This season did not disappoint.
The collection had a very 1970s flare, with the color saturation turned up to 11. Models wore pleated metallic gowns, midriff baring ensembles, and gorgeous floral appliqué dresses. A woman marble-dyed pieces of cloth next to models wearing outlandishly patterned neon suits. Maximalist harmony was achieved with an array of bold striped suits, demure black dresses, quilted overcoats, and shimmering gowns. Sarah Shears
Glamour, grit, and grace could be described as the holy trinity that was Christian Cowan’s runway show. If there was another way to describe it, it would be “go big, or go home.” The designer’s show opened with a very sensual black dressed paired with an over-the-top, larger than life feather hat. We were trapped inside for a year, so Cowan wanted to give us a reason to celebrate again and celebrate he did. The designer is best known for his statement-making party clothes, and between the sequins, sheer looks, and rhinestones, there was no shortage of celebratory appeal. Kristopher Fraser